The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, not even waiting for the state Public Employment Relations Board to approve its request for binding arbitration in its contract dispute with the de Blasio administration, April 4 announced that Kenneth Feinberg, best known as the Special Master of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, will be its representative if and when a panel is chosen.
Under PERB’s rules, PBA arbitrations, which have been conducted four times already since 2002, are handled by a tripartite panel: one member chosen by the union, one by the city, and the third, who serves as its chairman, by mutual consent of the two sides. This is the first time the PBA has chosen its representative before an arbitration was even ordered; on the other hand, Mr. Feinberg’s work on the VCF and other panels determining the compensation for victims of Agent Orange and state-sponsored terrorism has earned him greater public attention than the typical arbitrator.
‘An Important Choice’
During a press conference at the union’s lower Manhattan headquarters, PBA President Patrick J. Lynch said, “This choice is an extremely important one; probably one of the most-important ones we make in this process.” He said that he believed that Mr. Feinberg’s combination of stature and experience made him the ideal person to break through the resistance the union has encountered in dealings with the last four Mayors when it has sought a “market-rate” increase to bridge a significant gap in top salary that exists for NYPD entry-level officers compared to their counterparts in neighboring jurisdictions.
A chart issued by the union stated that the hourly average for city cops over a 25-year career showed they received an average of 48 percent less than officers employed by Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties, the Port Authority and Metropolitan Transportation Authority police departments, the Yonkers P.D. and the New York State Police.
Noting that increasingly his members are patrolling in the same areas as state police deployed on city streets and highways at the direction of Governor Cuomo, Mr. Lynch said, “We’re asking for the same rate as State Troopers,” who the chart showed made 37.15 percent more over a 25-year career.
City Labor Commissioner Robert W. Linn declined comment on the numbers cited by the union. In the past, he has argued that once fringe benefits are figured into compensation rates, the difference narrows considerably. And while the PBA’s numbers included most fringe benefits, one significant omission was the $12,000-a-year Variable Supplements Fund payment received by NYPD officers who retired after at least 20 years on the job, a benefit officers in the other jurisdictions don’t get.
A New Terrain
Mr. Feinberg, while a leading expert in mediation and dispute resolution, acknowledged that his work in those areas until now had not included wage contracts, either as a neutral arbitrator or, as in this case, as an advocate for one of the parties. But he said in response to a question that he believed the basic skills he possesses would translate well, and that it would just be a matter of “learning the history of the Taylor Law and the history of arbitration” for the municipal unions.
“I think I’m up to the task,” he said.
Moments earlier, he demonstrated his ability to vigorously make the case for the kind of raise Mr. Lynch is seeking. Noting that starting pay for city cops was just $42,500, he asked, “Is that possible in this day and age? I thought it must be a misprint, a typographical error. And after five years on the job, $50,000...How do you attract those people to become professionals and walk the beat if you don’t give them a compensation package commensurate” with the responsibilities and dangers of the job?
His focus on the salary after five years—which is actually $51,000 for those hired after Jan. 31 last year—seemed an example of strategic advocacy. The pivotal point for PBA members under the salary scale is when they reach 5 ½ years of service: at that time their salary jumps by more than 67 percent, to maximum pay of $85,292. Reaching that threshold also triggers a longevity benefit of more than $6,000 that combined with other aspects of compensation including night-differential pay brings them above $100,000.
An Ironic Echo
Mr. Lynch then noted that the incredulity Mr. Feinberg expressed about his members’ pay was an echo of the reaction 16 years ago by Mr. Linn, at a time when he was serving as the PBA’s outside labor counsel, and that he asked then for a “one-time market-rate adjustment” similar to what the union continues to seek.
Asked by a reporter whether the continued drop in crime might have undermined his bargaining position by convincing city officials that they had a high-caliber police force without making costly adjustments in salary for Police Officers that would then be pursued by unions for other municipal jobs, the PBA president retorted, “I think it’s insulting that the city’s approach is ‘why pay them—they’re gonna work anyway?’"
The union’s most-recent contract expired last Aug. 1, and the fact that no other city union has reached terms in the new bargaining round leaves the PBA—for the moment, anyway—unencumbered by the kind of bargaining pattern that Mayors have long used to persuade arbitrators not to grant ambitious salary demands based on the pay gap with other police departments. City negotiators including Mr. Linn have been known in the past to blunt the PBA’s demands after arbitration was set in motion by reaching a deal with one or more unions designed to box it in.
Asked whether he had spoken to other labor leaders about holding off on agreeing to terms to allow his union to obtain a favorable pattern that those unions might then replicate, Mr. Lynch replied, “What we want is to look at our issues. I don’t get in the way of other unions; they shouldn’t get in the way of us.”
Others May Be Leery
On several occasions in the past, including three during his 19-year tenure as PBA president, the union has been able to obtain more-favorable wage terms than other municipal uniformed unions, and sometimes in a fashion that forced those unions to make additional concessions to obtain the same pay hikes. That has made those unions’ leaders leery of letting the PBA set the pattern. And in the most-recent round of bargaining, while a coalition of those unions set what loomed as the uniformed pattern, Mr. Lynch was able to exceed its wage terms by 2 percent over a seven-year period, largely by agreeing to givebacks that affected future Police Officers.
“The city is in the Safe Streets era because Police Officers went out and put themselves at risk,” the union leader said at the start of the press conference. When it’s come to adequately compensating his members for their efforts, however, he said, “The city has consistently refused to make that investment,” even now “when it’s in the best fiscal shape it’s been in for some time.”
‘Demands Got Worse’
A week earlier, after the PBA petitioned PERB for a declaration of a bargaining impasse that would set the stage for arbitration, Mr. Linn had countered by accusing the union of bad-faith bargaining, saying that its refusal to make counter-offers to his demands prevented the kind of give and take that traditionally bridges the gap between stingy management offers and exorbitant ones by labor.
Mr. Lynch said last week, however, that the city’s initially offering wage hikes averaging less than 2 percent a year over two years, and subsequently asking that the union be part of an effort by the Municipal Labor Committee to meet its request for $2.4 billion in health-care savings, illustrated that “the demands of the city got worse as we sat at that [mediation] table.”
Mr. Linn declined to comment on some of the specific issues raised by the PBA leader and Mr. Feinberg, adhering to his longtime policy of not negotiating in the media.
His one comment, while awaiting a ruling from PERB that would be needed before an arbitration could actually begin, was, “We are confident that when all of the facts are provided to the full arbitration panel, the result will be fair and equitable.”